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How Many Reps Should I Be Doing?

Ah, the confusion of reps and sets. And newbie exercisers, don’t worry, even experts get confused about reps and how many reps or sets they should be doing to achieve their goals.

In fact, all you have to do is glance around the gym to see people making various mistakes when it comes to the number of exercises they perform, the number of reps, and form or technique.

On top of this, the fitness industry is saturated with information telling you one thing then turning the tables and telling you a whole other side of things.

So, let’s get to the bottom of it all.

Let’s stop asking ourselves “how many reps should I do?” and start finding the answers.


What Are Reps?

Maybe you’re sitting reading this scratching your head wondering what the heck we’re talking about when we say “reps.”

Reps is short for repetition. One bicep curl is one rep. And the number of reps you do make up a set.

For instance, one set of squats might consist of 10 reps, depending on the weight you’re lifting and the goal you’re trying to accomplish. And you may actually perform three sets of 10 reps of squats as part of one workout.

When it comes down to it, reps really are dependent on your goals as well as your current fitness status. If you’re new to weight lifting, your reps will inevitably differ from someone who has been doing it a long time.

But again, a few factors come into play.

An additional factor here is how much weight you’re lifting. Yet, how much weight you lift may depend on how long you’ve been training (whether you’re an expert or not) and what type of weight training you’re doing (yes, there are also different types).

For the sake of this article, we’re going to keep things ultra-simple.

We’ll look at weight training reps and how many reps you should be doing per set depending on your skill and fitness level.

The Beginner

Generally, a person new to exercise starts out with low weight and high reps.

Yet, to do the whole low weight, high reps properly, you also want to check your form. When it comes to making gains in the gym, you want to make sure you’re doing the right number of sets and reps, as well as actually performing each exercise properly.

Low weights and high reps contribute to endurance and increased muscle mass, improving your general fitness. And this is exactly what you want to work on before diving headfirst into any ambitious lifting goals.

If you really want to target your endurance further, you can even do 15 or more reps. Generally, 10-15 is the target when first starting out.

But if you’re feeling good, go for more (within limits, you don’t want to hurt yourself).

This allows enough time for your muscle to be under the tension of the force of the weight, which is where those small muscle tears happen.

During recovery, your body repairs these small muscle tears, building muscle and making you stronger.

Usually, as a beginner, you can stick to 1-2 sets to start, as well as throw in a 60-90 second break between sets or exercises.

Related article: Strengthening Your Mind-Body Connection

The Intermediate & Expert Weight Lifter

Now, we get into things!

So, you’ve built up your initial strength and you need a little more. Maybe by now, you also have more defined fitness goals, such as increasing your strength or improving your muscle mass. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the number of reps and sets to build muscle.

Building Muscle Mass

For increasing your muscle mass, aim for 6 to 12 reps for 3 to 6 sets, with 30-90 seconds in between each set. Ensure you’re lifting heavy here.

Ideally, you want to aim for something between 70-80% of your one rep max. In other words, it should feel like a good challenge and you should feel the burn at the top of each set.

Building Muscle Strength

For muscle strength, aim for a maximum of 6 reps for 2 to 3 sets, with a couple minutes or more in between each set so that you can fully recover without losing focus.

Again, you’ll want to be lifting heavy at about 80-90% of your one rep max. How many reps and sets per muscle group per workout should you be doing?

Generally, you want to stick to the reps and sets outlined above per each exercise. During your workout, you might target each muscle group in a couple of different ways, such as through compound movements or isolated movements.

If you’re looking for the number of reps to tone your entire body or reps to lose weight, this comes down to adding muscle and lifting heavy. More muscle also means your body appears more toned.

With more muscle, you burn more calories at rest.

Powerlifting

Lastly, there is lifting for power.

Powerlifting involves only 1 or 2 reps across 3 or 5 sets. Yet, don’t get fooled into thinking this is easy. Each set weight is about 90% of your one rep max.

Similar to lifting for muscle strength, allow your body a few minutes between sets to recover so you can come back at your lift with just as much power.

Related article: Low-Impact Exercises You Can Do at Home

Do Reps for Men & Women Differ?

Not particularly!

The number of reps you do always comes back to your goals and fitness level. Generally, this looks the same for both men and women. However, men may have the advantage of gaining strength and muscle easier simply due to their physiological make-up compared to women.

Yet, this shouldn’t deter any woman from getting stronger and building muscle.

Lifting is an empowering workout and can help you get the “toned” look that so many individuals strive for.

In fact, lifting heavy often gets you the most bang for your buck (you won’t have to spend hours in the gym since recovery is a key component in getting stronger).

Set Your Goals & Work Toward Them

By now, you can wonder a little less about reps. And from here, you need to decide where you want to go. This will indicate how many reps and sets you should be doing and how much you should be lifting.

Weightlifting is such a great way to exercise and move.

It supports muscle growth, which naturally declines with age. Thus, it’s also a wonderful way to combat the effects of time and age gracefully, ensuring you lead a long, healthy, and happy life.

Read next: The Only 3 Strengthening Moves You Need

Krista Bugden

Krista Bugden

"Believing in yourself is really half the battle," says Krista. Anything is possible and you really can achieve anything you set your mind to, is her motto. Physiotherapist, Piano player, skydiver, yogi, adventure traveler and energetic force of positivity, Krista is herself a (delightful) force to be reckoned with! As... Read More

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